- There is significant investment in research and development in St. John’s ocean economy, not only from government entities but also from large multinationals.
- Entrepreneurs and inventors in St. John’s have developed a number of game-changing key technologies to enable further economic activity on the ocean.
- The technological innovations in St. John’s can be harnessed to help Canada attain its goals for a more sustainable ocean economy.
Various stakeholders within the St. John’s ocean economy have to come together and marry St. John’s expertise and innovations with global market opportunities. More investment in St. John’s will help set in motion a cyclical effect, bringing about even more research and development.
How would you describe the ocean economy in the St. John’s region and its competitive advantages for investment?
What is really interesting about the Newfoundland and St. John’s ocean economy is that it is so diverse. It really touches almost all parts of our economy in one way or another. There is the offshore oil and gas industry, a strong fishing industry, marine tech, and ocean technology and innovation. St. John’s has a wonderful combination of entrepreneurialism, export orientation, innovation, and a very strong academic community. The combination of all these strengths makes a strong ocean economy.
“St. John’s has a wonderful combination of entrepreneurialism, export orientation, innovation, and a very strong academic community.”
We are small but mighty. We have really been able to monetize, capture and build on the strength that surrounds us: the ocean. When I work with companies from overseas, they talk about how they thought they were good on the ocean until they saw Newfoundlanders and Labradorians on the ocean and how we just have the skill set. It is in our DNA to flourish in this type of environment. We need to tell Canada and ourselves this story because sometimes even locals here do not understand how diversified our ocean economy is. When I tell people that Newfoundland and Labrador have one of the strongest ocean economies in Canada, there is silence. People go, “Wow, really?” We should be proud of Newfoundland and Labrador’s ocean economy and tell our story to attract further investment, collaboration, and new innovations. There are big global challenges out there right now and we have a spot in this opportunity to make things right.
St. John’s is recognized as a City of Ocean Excellence—what kind of partnerships and collaborations make that possible?
What is really interesting lately is Canada’s Ocean Supercluster. The industries around the ocean such as the fishing industry and oil and gas industry do communicate, but collaboration is not always a part of their cultures. With Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, we are seeing significant investment dollars going into research and development and innovation. Industry giants are coming to the table, sharing their problems, and collaborating to find solutions. This really advances the innovation ecosystem here and makes St. John’s a very exciting place to do business. University and academic institutions are also at the table. With this collaboration, investment dollars, and activity, the ocean or blue economy will triple in size over the next 10 to 15 years. With this kind of activity, the ocean economy in St. John’s is really priming itself to address these new global opportunities.
What advantages does the region’s cold ocean environment present?
It is our understanding of the cold ocean environment that allowed St. John’s to develop the technologies needed to enable the offshore oil and gas industry. It was considered impossible to produce oil and gas in ice-infested waters with icebergs, but all this is now operational here. We were able to do that through the entrepreneurialism, innovation, skill, and education that we brought to the table to open up that opportunity for the province and set the path for other innovations and economic activity to come.
What is the availability of talent for St. John’s ocean economy?
We have a strong foundation and a highly skilled and educated population when it comes to the ocean industries. We have been able to build our economy around this. However, there are still challenges. We have an aging population, and so Memorial University of Newfoundland is reaching out to international students to get an education here. Our governments are being responsive with immigration policy because we need to have a more diverse population to sustain our economy.
“Tech talent development and retention is a priority for the tech industry.”
I am also involved with techNL and we have identified that tech talent development and retention is a priority for the tech industry. There is a lot of collaboration going on among various sectors, governments, and academic institutions to have a good conversation around how to grow our population to sustain our economy. This is not only a Newfoundland and Labrador problem but a Canadian problem.
What are the technologies coming up that hold the most promise for St. John’s ocean economy?
There are many, but the key technologies are around ocean environment characterization and remote sensing, such as with autonomous vehicles and environmental genomics. We have companies here working on 3D modeling for shipbuilding, supporting the Canadian Coast Guard and the National Shipbuilding Strategy. There are many different areas and it all starting to become so diversified, which is a common theme for the blue economy. There are various enabling technologies to help foster activity on the ocean such as resource development. Subsea Technologies is moving so fast with regards to ocean technologies. Kraken Robotics has sensor and robotics technology for subsea operations. There is also Genoa Design International, eDNAtec, and Virtual Marine. They are all doing simulated marine training. There are many really interesting pots that make for a good investment community.
“There are various enabling technologies to help foster activity on the ocean such as resource development.”
eDNAtec is taking water samples from the ocean and sequencing them through some of the best technologies in order to get a higher resolution of data. There are granular data points that can tell you everything that is going on in terms of what organisms are in the water in that particular sample. This technology is going to revolutionize environmental monitoring, with possible applications around carbon sequestration in mangroves and eelgrass. There are a lot of different applications where DNA sequencing is needed to identify organisms in the water.
How does this innovation help attract foreign direct investment to St. John’s?
We saw tremendous growth in our economy around offshore oil and gas from global investors who came into the province and built a whole new economy for us. With companies like ExxonMobil and Equinor from Norway come Tier-1 contractors who make significant investments. We now are seeing this happen in aquaculture. Some of the world’s largest aquaculture companies are now making significant investments in Newfoundland because we have a lot of areas for fish farming. That is the type of investment we have experienced. From that, especially in oil and gas, come hundreds of millions of dollars for research and development (R&D) investments. That then brings in other investors looking to collaborate and add to that R&D ecosystem. There are lots of different areas, all sector-driven, now coming together because of the Ocean Supercluster to attract even more outside investment and interest.
In 30 seconds, what is the government’s role in improving the investment attractiveness of St. John’s ocean economy?
Help us tell the story. We need to really articulate our value proposition to the world and how we can help Canada in terms of its climate change ambitions. Through the new budget, Canada is now investing significant amounts of money in climate change solutions. Help our business and innovation community help you. How can we collaborate to add value? Help us tell the story within Canada and then globally.
What is the role of academia?
Because of the strong technology orientation in our business communities, collaboration with academia can always be stronger. We need more academic private-public partnerships. We are seeing a lot more of that over the years because the oil and gas and mining industries have invested a lot into the growth of the academic community. We are also seeing a lot of founders with some really interesting technologies come together with the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We would like to see more of that.
What is the non-profit sector’s role?
The not-for-profit sector has advanced as a result of the growth of our economy in Newfoundland, with big corporations investing in the not-for-profit community. We are seeing more of these types of supports. Another part of non-profits that I am very active in is industry associations. These associations help foster more collaboration and support for the business community. They really help us tell the story around the ocean economy and help us get primed. With COVID-19, we have to get primed for when the marketplace opens again. We need to figure out how to come together. The government, academia, business community, and non-profits must join forces to look at the marketplace and seek opportunities for us to capture.